2021 is a year that will be forever etched into Cole Jordan's mind.
After months of uncertainty surrounding the season, hundreds of players gathered in Regina after the WHL and provincial government were able to iron out details to allow for a bubble atmosphere similar to that of the environment at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton.
The Queen City served as the hub for clubs from Saskatchewan and Manitoba, allowing the Regina Pats, Swift Current Broncos, Saskatoon Blades, Moose Jaw Warriors, Prince Albert Raiders, Brandon Wheat Kings, and Winnipeg Ice to play 24 games this season.
After a quarantine period, the seven clubs counted the University of Regina campus as home throughout the season, with players and staff going through daily COVID testing and playing without fans at the Brandt Centre.
A unique set-up, for sure, but one Jordan holds immense appreciation for.
"Obviously it was a different experience for sure but for me, the experience was top-notch," Jordan told Flames TV. "It was a great experience. We were obviously very lucky to be able to get a season and be able to play some games. I'm really thankful for that. My experience there was really good."
It also allowed for scouts to get cricital viewings on draft-eligible players like Jordan who, for the most part, hadn't been able to play games in a calendar year.
"I can't reiterate or talk enough about our area scouts and how important they were to this whole process. The WHL played 24 games so our Western League scouts were on Cole Jordan and those two bubbles as soon as they could in Canada," Flames Director of Amateur Scouting Tod Button said.
"Darren Kruger loved this kid, watched him a lot in Moose Jaw - he's a kid, he said, that even though he's a late birthday, he's really come since his 16-year-old year. He's a little bit bigger than I think he's listed … he's 6-foot-2, 200-pounds, he's a really good skater, he's first-pass more of a defender type. Krugs doesn't think he's going to run a powerplay any time soon, but he thinks he's got some potential to improve his offensive game and add a little bit more in the offensive zone."
The time in Regina helped showcase how much Jordan has grown from his rookie WHL season in 2019-20, giving him a chance to refine his game and make his mark among draft-eligible defenders.
Jordan ended up suiting up for 23 games this season, setting new career highs with three goals and 10 points.
"I think I'm a two-way defenceman, a puck-moving defenceman. I try to contribute on both sides of the puck," Jordan said of his game. "I'd say my skating is my number one ability so I try to use that and join the rush and be an offensive defenceman. But I take pride in my defensive game."
"There's a couple areas of the defensive side of my game that I want to clean up. I'm going to work really hard throughout the rest of this summer and next season with Moose Jaw to clean up and be able to make myself a well-rounded, two-way defenceman. That will be the No. 1 priority. In the gym, I want to keep on getting stronger because you can never be too strong."
The strides the Brandon, Man. product made this past season led the Flames to selecting him in the fifth round, 141st overall, in this year's NHL Draft. With the event being held virtually this summer, he spent the day with those closest to him and was quick to thank his family for getting him to this point in his career.
"My parents and my sister ... They were by my side throughout my entire life and they've made me the person I am today. Going back through all the years of hockey, all my coaches and my former teammates, I'm just so thankful that I've had them to be alongside me throughout my journey.
"I'm just so happy to be picked by the Flames. I'm so honoured and humbled."
Photos by Keith Hershmiller